A paramount concern for someone entering psychotherapy is how to choose the right therapist. It is a daunting task and if you keep the following suggestions in mind they can help you on your journey to finding the right person for you.
A. Impression on first contact: There are many practitioners out there with a wide range of experience, training and techniques. A phone interview is a good place to start. You will need to take in all parts of this first hurdle to make an evaluation: Such as: Did they reply to your email or phone call in a relatively prompt manner (one to two days) did they sound friendly and interested as they spoke to you? Did they offer anything that was helpful or felt good to you: A bit of wisdom or empathy? Or did they sound a bit too business like and just wanted to get the appointment time set.
If that goes well schedule a time to meet in person. You will be well served to meet with at least two or three therapists until you find the right person for you. Asking friends or family members for suggestions can be helpful.
B. Gender: As you begin your search think about if you prefer working with a man or a woman. Often times it is helpful for men to work with a male because of the lack of healthy fathering in our culture. For women it could be that a woman might be the best choice if mother issues play a big part of what brings you in or a man if father was a key part of the struggles in your life. Conversely it may be best to work with a person of the same gender of the parent that felt safer and more connected for you. It all depends on what feels best to you.
C. Specialized skills: It is important that the person you work with has the right skills to help you. If you experienced physical or sexual abuse you need a therapist with specialized training to work with that kind of trauma. Most therapists on their websites will list their areas of expertise they help clients with so that can be useful as you begin your search.
D. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. How does it feel to sit with this other person? Do you feel comfortable, at ease and able to say whatever you need to and don’t feel that they have any judgements? Do they seem genuinely interested and fully focused on you?
2. Ask them how you will define progress in the therapy. It’s good to know how the therapist and you will measure your progress towards your goals. Ask them how long the therapy process takes and what markers will you be able to identify to know you are progressing. Ask as many questions as you want. It is your therapy work, money and time.
3. I think the most important question to ask is this one: Are you (the therapist) in your own therapy? You need to find out if they have done their own work on themselves so that they can guide you with more clarity and not have their issues get in the way of your work. Therapists are people too and you deserve someone who is clear about their buttons that get pushed.
4. Also, ask how they get help with the things that comes up in the therapy room for them or when they find they are at a loss as to what to do next. In other words, do they have their own therapist and/or supervisor. A supervisor is a senior practitioner who helps them do their best work with you and not let their issues get in the way. Yes, therapists are human beings with blind spots and anyone worthy of the title needs to be working on themselves and have help readily available.
5. Do they talk about themselves too much? And if you comment on that are they defensive? Talking too much and being defensive are signs of things that need to be addressed in their own therapy. If this doesn’t change they are not the right person.
6. Do they challenge you too much or too little in your therapy? Some people need more prodding to move ahead so challenges are helpful but being pushed too much is an opportunity for you to speak up about what you need. Being too cozy in the therapy is a sure way to not move ahead. Therapy is a two-way street and it is important that you advocate for what you need.
7. Ask them: How does therapy work and how do I know when I am ready to leave?
Your therapist should be able to answer the above questions to your satisfaction. It is important that they be able to articulate how this complex process works and invite you into the discussion into how you will know when you are done.
8. And finally there has been research about what is the greatest predictor of successful therapeutic outcomes. That predictor is the rapport, or “fit” between the client and therapist and vice versa. It is not the techniques they use or what orientation they have instead it comes down to how does it feels being with them. It is hugely important for you to feel understood, cared about and hold the belief that your therapist is a trusted guide for the difficult and life changing journey ahead.